The benefits of genealogical research in the care sector



Genealogists exist to identify and locate people whose identity is generally unknown. They operate in a number of different sectors, including social care.

Here, Fraser and Fraser explore the importance of genealogical research to the care sector and discuss the benefits it can bring.

There are three main areas where genealogists can be of assistance to the care sector. Firstly, a genealogist can be very helpful where a care home resident is a ‘Protected Person’ under the Court of Protection and their Deputy is applying to the Court for a Statutory Will. In general, it is necessary to join the Protected Person’s statutory next of kin to the application for the Statutory Will, so that they can be heard should they wish to object to the terms of the will. Where the next of kin is known to the care home and/or the Deputy, this presents no difficulty. However, where the Protected Person is, for example, widowed, and relatives are unknown, genealogists can identify the next of kin by reconstructing the Protected Person’s family tree. This is achieved by documenting the relevant events of birth, marriage, civil partnership and death. Once a genealogist has built up the family picture, they locate the family members and contact them, explaining the situation regarding the Protected Person.

Locating relatives

The second scenario where genealogical research could benefit the care sector is when a care home might be aware that one of their residents has, say, a nephew and they need to contact him but aren’t sure of his full name and any address details are out of date. Here, we would document the blood relationship between the nephew and the resident (in order to identify the nephew as the subject of the enquiry) and then locate him.

Occasionally, care home residents pass away having not been visited by friends or family for a considerable time. This is the third area where genealogy can help. Where the resident has left no will and nothing is known of their family, our work is to identify and locate the statutory next of kin who is entitled to share in the deceased resident’s estate. As before, we do this by recreating the family tree of the resident, ‘clearing off’, or discounting, groups of entitled family until we reach one containing surviving members. We then establish the extent of this group of kin and locate those people. We usually interview family members to be sure that we’ve located the correct people.

When someone dies without a will

Some people take the view that because a resident’s relatives are unknown, it means that none exist. However, because we have very generous rules in England and Wales regarding what happens when someone dies without a will, it is always much more likely than not that surviving relatives do exist and can be found.

We always carry out research by reference to the ‘pecking order’ of classes of kin, and it’s necessary to clear off each in order to be sure that the estate is distributed to the correct people. Perhaps the resident will have left a surviving spouse or civil partner who will inherit. If not, then have they left any surviving issue (i.e. children, grandchildren, or remoter issue)? If that class is empty, then the next class to examine will be the parents. Usually they will have passed away already, and so we move on the class of the siblings of the whole blood (i.e. siblings with whom the deceased shared both parents) and, where predeceased, their issue. If this class is empty, we look for any siblings of the half-blood (i.e. siblings with whom the deceased shared either parent but not both). Should this class prove empty, we’d clear off the class of grandparent (who will almost inevitably have predeceased) and then address the class of the uncles and aunts of the whole blood and their issue. This means reconstructing the paternal and maternal family trees, determining their respective extents and descending the lines of all the uncles and aunts identified until heirs are located or until proved to have terminated. It’s unusual but, if this class is empty, we move on to the final class of potentially eligible kin, the class of the uncles and aunts of the half blood and their issue. This means reconstructing the family trees of each of the four grandparents.

Should all classes prove empty and there be no entitled family members to inherit the estate, then it would fall to the Crown (or either of the Duchies of Cornwall or Lancaster as the case may be) as bona vacantia. However, it is extremely unusual for any estate which might appear to be destined for the Crown or Duchies actually to end up with them.

The importance of genealogy

In all cases, it’s impossible at the outset to predict with any degree of accuracy how large the family will be, how closely or distantly related to the person (whether surviving or deceased) its members will be and how widely dispersed they will be. Our job is to establish the position and report back to our client, enabling them to move forward on the basis of the results we provide.